You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Sage Steele's rise from Tampa to ESPN


Sage Steele sat outdoors on the ESPN Sports­Center set Monday, a pristine Raymond James field behind her, and dispensed information while handling interviews and waltzing through the adrenaline rush of a one-hour live broadcast.

"I'm having a blast," said Steele, who serves as lead host for SportsCenter on the Road. "When you're on the road, in the elements, with things changing, with potential technical issues, you take a deep breath and you say, 'Here we go' and you talk sports, and you don't try to make it bigger than it is."

For Steele, 44, her work in Tampa leading up to the College Football national championship game represented a triumphant return to one of the most influential stops of her career. From 1998-2001, she worked in this market: first for WFTS-Ch. 28, then later for Fox Sports Florida.

In Tampa Bay, Steele, like everyone who covered the Bucs back then, managed the vacillating love-hate interview sessions of Warren Sapp. She forged influential relationships with coaches such as Tony Dungy and current ESPN colleague Herm Edwards. And she allowed an aspiring sportscaster named Erin Andrews to spend time shadowing her.

It was here where she married her husband, Jonathan Bailey, on the beach, and it was here where they scraped by on what she called a grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwich budget.

Most of all, it was here where her ascent truly began, elevating to Comcast Mid-Atlantic and eventually to ESPN -- the network she had aimed for ever since she told her parents at the age of 12 that she wanted to make a living talking sports.

Reaching her current lofty position, however, involved a journey rife with criticism, self doubt, struggles and an unbelievable moment when Steele thought she might abandon her dream career to sell cosmetics.

After landing at ESPN in 2007 -- she actually turned down her first offer from the network in 2004 to focus on family and the impending arrival of her second child -- Steele struggled as a SportsCenter anchor.

"I got thrown in too soon, and they acknowledged it," Steele said. "That meant the world to me … but it was kind of too late, so I was like, 'What do we do now?' Fortunately, they saw my talent. I just needed time, and I needed more confidence after my start."

Producers shifted her to a lower role, doing Sports­Center updates for Mike & Mike and First Take. As she neared the end of her contract, Steele began to sell skin care products on the side, hosting parties at the homes of friends because she didn't believe the network would renew her deal.

"My kids at the time were 11 months, 2 and 4," said Steele, growing emotional and fighting back tears. "My husband was a stay-at-home dad, and I'm the sole breadwinner.

"I was afraid. 'How am I going to support my family?' Scary times. That's why I don't take (where I am today) for granted. I worked hard, but a lot of people work hard. I think I got lucky that they believed in me and gave me another chance."

Steele got a second three-year contract but said she's not sure she would have succeeded if not for the counsel of the late Stuart Scott, the longtime ESPN anchor who died of cancer in 2015. Scott helped nurture her through the difficulties, even yelling at her when she expressed doubts.

"He was like, 'You're letting them win,' them meaning everybody, whether it was peers or people upstairs who didn't believe in me," Steele explained. "He said, 'So you're going to let your dream go because people don't believe in you?' He just kept saying, 'Go do you.' But I had to figure out what 'you' was."

Steele eventually built up her abilities, and when Magic Johnson unexpectedly exited the network's NBA pregame show weeks before the beginning of the 2013 season, producers tabbed her to be the new host. She added the SportsCenter on the Road role in 2016 and will now anchor onsite, pre-event coverage at major events, including the Super Bowl, World Series and the Masters.

On Jan. 21, Johnson reunites with Steele and analyst Michael Wilbon for NBA Saturday Primetime.

Despite all the success, Steele said she's just learning now to blend in positives with her constant self-critiques. She still gets nervous. But it's a good nervous.

"At the NBA Finals last year, Game 7 (Cavaliers-Warriors)-- I'll never forget that moment," Steele smiled. "About 30 seconds out … life flashed before me.

"But I no longer say, 'Gosh, I hope I don't screw this up.' Now I say, 'You've got this and never forget how fortunate you are to be here.'?"


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

His bat has powers. His cat has Dr. Evil
His bat has powers. His cat has Dr. Evil

For more than four decades, the New York Yankees’ lineup has almost always included a first baseman with left-handed power. Think of Chris Chambliss, Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez, Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira. Chances are you picture a lot of home runs clearing the inviting right-field wall in the Bronx. Now think of Greg Bird. Manager Joe...
False patriotism of NFL scoundrels could keep Kaepernick unemployed
False patriotism of NFL scoundrels could keep Kaepernick unemployed

There is enough evil in the hierarchy of the National Football League and among the league's 32 owners for the blackballing of quarterback Colin Kaepernick to be an unofficial policy.  There's also the possibility that Kaepernick's inability to find a landing spot is based on business decisions made independently, with all 32 clubs fearing the...
Hamilton makes NASCAR history as first black race director 
Hamilton makes NASCAR history as first black race director 

Jusan Hamilton grew up working on cars in his grandfather's garage, and he has been in love with motorsports ever since.   He dreamed of driving all the way from upstate New York's dirt tracks to the bright lights of NASCAR. When it didn't work out behind the wheel, he poured himself into a career behind the scenes of racing.  ...
The Nationals have not one, but two winemakers in their clubhouse
The Nationals have not one, but two winemakers in their clubhouse

Joe Blanton, full-time Washington Nationals pitcher and part-time winemaker, traces his fascination with wine to one bottle: a 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia, a Bordeaux red blend of four grapes from Napa Valley. He tasted it, he remembers, sometime during the winter between the 2008 and 2009 baseball seasons, a few months after the Oakland Athletics...
Ex-FSU football player's next play is becoming a brain surgeon
Ex-FSU football player's next play is becoming a brain surgeon

Myron Rolle is ready to take his game from the football field to the operating table. Those precious hands -- renowned for making interceptions -- will be wielding scalpels and forceps on the human brain.  Rolle, the former Florida State All-American safety and Rhodes Scholar, was accepted into the Harvard Medical School neurosurgery program at...
More Stories